Horses are peculiar beasts. The form book tells us that although we can spot emerging patterns within their historical performance, and we can pick out their seemingly ideal conditions as a basis for their likelihood for winning, one factor which I find makes a bigger difference than most to some horses is who they have sat on their back. The relationship between horse and jockey is one of the most important angles to consider when summarising on a horses chance of winning, and therefore we can assume that the jockey booking in itself must be one of the first things we look at when we approach analysing a race.
There are plenty of these kind of examples, but a 75 rated All Weather miler is a perfect example of the importance of horse-jockey relationship. Skidby Mill, trained by Laura Mongan, has had 61 career starts, with 9 3rds, 9 2nds, and 10 wins. 50% of her wins have come under the steering of George Baker. Not only that, but 3 of her career 2nds and one of her 3rds have also come under George Baker, despite the fact he has only ridden her 11 times. Her RPR’s always show an improvement when he is on board. George Baker is a fantastic jockey with a brilliant judge of pace, but even taking that into account, Skidby Mill feels more comfortable when he takes the ride and they have an excellent working relationship.
Jockeys have a tough job, there is no doubting that. They are often (incorrectly) blamed when things go awry on a racecourse, but I believe we are in an era where jockeyship is at a very high standard. On the flat you have the likes of Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori, who both operate at a 20%+ strike rate and deserve the plaudits they receive for their ice-cool professionalism even at the highest profile meetings.
On the National Hunt scene, the racing world said goodbye to Sir AP McCoy in 2015 who was the face of racing for many years, but luckily for racing we still have the incomparable Ruby Walsh who has the skill of allowing horses to feel their own way into a race and therefore maximises their energy levels come the business end. He is the absolute top of the tree and will be for some time to come, but there really are some fantastic jockeys coming through in the National Hunt game that deserve a mention.
So who should we be watching?
This lad has all the required attributes to be a retained rider for one of the top operations. He is all the rage at the moment, and quite rightly so. In the last 14 days, he has had 27 rides, and 20 of them have finished in the first 4, which is quite remarkable. That includes a big handicap chase win on board A Toi Phil at Leopardstown, rousting his mount home despite some hard luck in running, but it is not just this that is gaining him the plaudits, rather it is 2 other reasons. Firstly, his horsemanship is of the highest level. At Thurles last week, Jack was on board Bilko, a 6/1 shot, where he made a terrible mistake at the first. The jockey was thrown sideways, holding on for dear life, where he managed to keep the horse relaxed whilst climbing back on board and getting himself back in riding position. The horse seemed none the worst and even had every chance 4 out (eventually pulled up…). The way he enabled his mount to stay relaxed whilst he didn’t panic in the process of nearly being thrown off was magnificent considering his lack of experience. But one thing that has struck many in the game is the fact that he is so down to earth. Gordon Elliott recently mentioned that he still mucks out early mornings, rides out, and keeps his feet glued firmly to the floor, despite his exponential rise in Ireland. It would be easy for him to be getting ahead of himself with all of his early success as a teenager but if he keeps his head down and continues to ride as he does then he will go straight to the top.
Adrian Heskin is only 24 years old, and took a fairly big gamble when heading over to England from Ireland to become Tom George’s stable jockey. The move could have overwhelmed many a sportsman, but I have no doubt that this man is one of the main reasons for Tom George to be operating at a 21% strike rate this season – his highest ever strike rate in his 20 years training horses.
He is already a Cheltenham Festival winning jockey, whose confidence will be sky high after the progress he has made in England in such a short space of time. Do not be at all surprised to see this man riding winners in all the major spring festivals for years to come.
Harry Cobden, at just 18 years old, sits above Adrian Heskin, and plenty of others, in the British Jump Jockeys championship. Although plenty will say that it is due to the fact he is riding top quality horses for Paul Nicholls, the fact that he has already very nearly ridden out his claim in just 374 rides is quite astonishing.
He operates at a strike rate of just under 1 win for every 5 rides and his judge of pace is something already that a professional jockey would be proud of. He is sure to be riding winners for years to come.
One who is not quite as in the spotlight as the above 3 but I could not leave out is Alan Johns, who rides for Tim Vaughan. He operates at a strike rate of 18%, and shows a huge +£64 profit to £1 level stakes when riding for him this year. I believe that although the likes of Jack Kennedy and Harry Cobden have excelled so quickly and have been able to ride out their claim within a short space of time, many jockeys in the past who have done similar have been unable to continue their high number of rides once their claim has gone for whatever reason (recent jockeys that would spring to mind are the likes of Cam Hardie on the flat). The more patient approach to bringing a jockey through the ranks has worked wonders for Alan Johns, who has seen his number of rides, winners and strike rate increase year on year since 2012. This year he has been riding with real confidence, and has struck some big wins with enterprising rides from the front, including when on Theligny at Newbury on New Years Eve. This lad has a real talent and I think that the approach that connections have taken with him should be replicated for other conditionals.
I have spoken to Ryan Hatch numerous times, and what strikes me about him, similar to Jack Kennedy, is just how down to earth he is. An extremely friendly and dedicated man who loves his horse racing and loves the stable he is part of. I couldn’t have been happier when he gained his Cheltenham Festival success last year in the RSA Chase with Blaklion (I may have had vested financial interest, too, of course) but with his hard-working attitude from a top class stable he is another that will get every opportunity to ride winners on the biggest stage. Similar to Alan Johns, he has been able to progress in a manner that has not only maximised the use of his claim but also given him plenty of racecourse experience so he is now confident when he steps out onto the track. Let’s hope he can make a full recovery from his unfortunate injury sooner rather than later.
Although Ruby is king, and will be for a few years to come, these jockeys are ones that are climbing the roster in fairly quick succession at the moment. Jack Kennedy is clearly catching everyone’s eye when scanning through the racecard, but the likes of Alan Johns and Ryan Hatch are operating at high-class levels and it will not be long until we see these guys dominating the spring festivals.
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